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Mindful : October 2019
So, I reached out to Belisa Vranich, the author of Breathe, a classic book on the mechanics of breathing. Vranich, a psychologist who runs a learning program called The Breath- ing Class, got interested in breathing when she started practicing in New York City and found that many of her patients were so agitated they couldn’t take in anything that she had to say. But when she started looking for some simple breathing techniques to teach them, she found that, even though everyone agreed that breath- ing was important, the majority of people—including many experts— were doing it all wrong. Based on her research, Vranich estimates that at least nine out of every 10 people aren’t using their diaphragms as a primary breathing muscle. Instead, they’re breathing vertically, lifting their shoulders and sucking in their guts on the inhale, as if they were striking a Superman pose. “That’s anatomically incong ruous,” she said. “There’s no other animal on the planet that breathes like this. We’re taking this beautiful machine and using it in a way that makes no sense based on how it was designed.” Breathing up and down, instead of out and in, disengages the diaphragm and makes it difficult to take a full breath. It also triggers a shift in the autonomic nervous system, which is made up of two counterbalancing parts: the sympathetic nervous sys- tem and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system usually kicks in when we’re fac- ing danger or are under a great deal of stress (a.k .a . the “fight or flight” response). In ordinary circumstances, once the initial threat diminishes, the parasympathetic system will step in and set in motion the “rest and digest, restore and repair” functions. But if you’re constantly breathing with your neck and shoulders, it signals the vagus nerve—our internal stress detector—to send a message to the brain that the body is on overload. → PART TWO Duration: three minutes 1 Move your hands away from your body. Rest your arms at your sides, palms up. Let your feet fall outward. You may keep breathing through your mouth or switch to your nose. Relax your lips, your face, and the roof of your mouth. Let your tongue get heavy. Very impor tant: Let your jaw relax. Pay attention to your cheeks, ears, and neck, relaxing them with each exhale. Relax your shoulders and the rest of your body. 2 Continue scanning your body to ensure that you’re not hold- ing tension anywhere. Imag- ine that with each inhale you are letting yourself float a little higher, and with each exhale you are letting yourself sink a little deeper. Try to move your mind away from thinking and simply keep your attention on your physical sensations. Observe your breath as if you were watching another person. As Vranich points out, “Relax- ing your body so that stress hormones and blood pres- sure decrease recharges your battery within minutes and encourages mindfulness. Do it as often as possible, ideally ever y day.” October 2019 mindful 65 well-being